Toad in the Hole June 2006 Archives

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June 28, 2006

False Grit

(Who else is old enough to remember Grit, the alleged newspaper?)

Editors' and, OK, Writers' Hall of Shame: AP article in the Chron this morning about stone ruins discovered in the Amazon forest, which are being called an ancient "Stonehenge" observatory, contains the phrase, "although the blocks have not yet been submitted to carbon dating." Minor finger-wag at Stan Lehman, who wrote the piece, but a bigger one at whichever editor along the flume didn't twitch reflexively at the conjunction of stone blocks and carbon dating. You can't carbon-date stone. There are ways of dating stone, but carbon-dating pretty much works only for the formerly living.

At the end of the piece, as the Chron ran it, is a clue about how Mr. Lehman jumped to his conclusion: An archeology department head is paraphrased as saying that "carbon dating and further excavation must be carried out." Carbon-dating the stuff around the stones, the plants and carbon-ish soil bits, would make sense in establishing approximate ages. But I'd think that the idea of carbon-dating stones would strike the ear as incongruous.

Are there any science-for-journalists courses in colleges and J-schools? I wonder what should be in them, basics that the students should have had in highschool, or things that show up most often in the news and that people commonly trip over.

Another amusing incongruity in the same section, in a full-page Macy's ad, is a teeny-weeny bikini in camouflage cloth. I suppose that's making a statement, but it's hard to say what.

The fun part was another science bit, a newly discovered snake that can change colors like a chameleon. They've given it the unimaginative English name "Kapuas mud snake."

Posted at 04:49 PM | Comments (5)

June 27, 2006

Wayback Machine: For the Record

This is the single piece of literature that influenced my life the most. I read it when I was seven -- Dad used to bring that magazine home all the time, and I cut my intellectual teeth on it, I suppose -- and it was the first hint I ever had that It Wasn't Just Me, that there were other people out there who were a little bit askew. Some people read The Well of Loneliness and some people read The Feminine Mystique, but I got a taste of something even more basic when I was much younger. Maybe it laid the ground for other realizations. Probably saved my life, later on. I should have re-read it every six months, in fact; it would have spared me some of those ol' suicidal lonesome blues if I'd just remembered.

Posted at 05:33 AM | Comments (4)

June 25, 2006

Those Humboldt Redwoods

One great drive in the week upstate took us from Redcrest on the Avenue of the Giants through part of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park -- arguably the Humboldt Potemkin Forest -- and then over a road that I was interested to see does not appear in our faithful road atlas, through Petrolia and the seaside hills and forests to Arcata. We of course felt obligated to visit the "Champion" redwood, and then its now-fallen neighbor the Flatiron Tree. I suppose this was named for the shape of its cross-section, which is 17 feet in diameter on the wide side and, um, nine? eleven? anyway somewhat less through the narrow transect.

It fell a couple of decades ago. So, evidently, did a number of big trees in that grove; I'll have to go look the event up, but there seemed to be several that were of similar size and age of horizontality.

I'm not saying "death," exactly. Though they're pretty much dead as individuals now, I know this took some time to happen after they fell. Trees are possibly the best dead things on the planet, by which I mean they leave the handsomest, best-aging, most community-minded (not to mention useful to humans, of course) corpses. Looking at a fallen redwood in its natural place, you can almost believe in eternal life.

The biggest tree, still standing, shows a record of some of what it's survived, like fire. It's already supporting other life, too.


Someone's doing canopy studies up there, using the sort of rig they use to study tropical rainforest canopies. (See the New Yorker piece "Climbing the Redwoods" by Richard Preston, Feb. 2005.) They've found whole communities, including life forms new to the rest of us. Along with the red tree vole and the wandering salamander and all, there are copepods up there. A new copepod, and a new earthworm as well. The thought of a nonterrestrial earthworm is weird enough, but what the hell are copepods doing a thousand feet above ground level?

Earthworms. There are earthworms overhead. There are earthworms overhead that no one had named before this. You'd think they'd fall and get found occasionally, but evidently not much. And copepods, they swim! There's enough of a substrate up there in the closed canopy of an old redwood forest to have a consistent habitat of puddles and, um, earth? And for species to evolve and/or persist as relicts. Cripes.

This is another good reason to stop helicopter logging, too.

In its long lifetime, a big redwood charts flows I can see but can't hope to identlfy, quite:


This looks like a burl forming, but that's just my guess.

When they fall, we can read more:


as the bark peels off and the wood weathers and it's all down at eye level now.

And after they've fallen, they still support other lives.

Here's more of that natural grafitti. I think it looks a lot like wavewrack, funny thing:


This is the Flatiron Tree, if I recall correctly, with just the start of colonization happening. As happens with volcanic island colonization, ferns are often the first; there's sorrel too.


This garden growing on a couple yards of tree includes mosses, lichens (not sure if those are visible),sword fern, redwood sorrel, heuchera (see the little white flowers raised above the green?), trillium, and elderberry.


Sometimes the life-and-death thing gets a little stark.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Just by the bye, this is vanilla leaf, a pretty little understory plant whose leaves are supposed to smell of vanilla after they're dried.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

On the fringe of the same forest, on a little slump by a roadcut, a thriving plot of redwood lilies, aka chaparral lilies (per the Peterson guide), Lilium rubescens. The individual flowers start white (and quite sexily fragrant) and age through rose to that deep wine-red. Not the least bit funereal.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Those last few are stashed over at Photobucket, where I have less control over size unless I've missed something. I ran out of free space on Flickr. It looks as if the Kodak gallery doesn't permit blog-linking, but I'll have to re-read that piece of the TOS. If there's another pic host that works like Flickr, I'd be interested in hearing about it. I'm cheap and/or broke, take your pick.

Posted at 09:54 PM | Comments (4)

June 24, 2006

Pocket Lint

Comment of the Day, posted by mudkitty over at Majikthise:

There is a national gun's called the NRA. Suckers.

Long and winding week. I found myself getting into useless debates with people who wouldn't get the point and to whom I was trying my damnedest to be polite in several places, including one of those dreams that take place in an ugly half-abandoned urban wasteland with a splendid view of gorgeous distant mountains.

That stuff makes me so tired.

So the cellphone died on the road in Humboldt County, and we took the occasion to change to Working Assets Wireless and get a free phone from them. We'd been talking about doing that for months and the Universe gave us a kick in the ass. The phone they were offering is a camera phone, so we have one willy-nilly. Maybe I can be a Hollaback Girl. First thing, now that it works, is to set the voicemail, which will be novel; the Verizon cheapo-plan didn't have that. Then on to the bells and whistles. This one has more ringtones to play with, and I think we can download more. I wonder if anyone's licensing birdsongs or Cajun tunes?

The damned thing has so many things packed onto it -- second screen, odd lights -- I keep hoping to find something useful, like a laser gun or a culinary salamander. Or something that produces kleenex on demand.

I dunno; what would you want on your cellphone?

Posted at 01:18 AM | Comments (4)

June 17, 2006

Friday Cat-Plus Blogging

Matt the Cat has lately found a new Power Spot on Joe's desk.


Sometimes his comfort requires a certain rearrangement of desktop clutter, but as long as he's happy, what the hell.

This mouse earned a reprieve; either he was just too lively and too small a mouthful to be worth the effort, or Shep is lovesick and off his feed again.


Cute li'l booger, isn't he? And not snake chow tonight, unless he got sold again after I returned him this afternoon. He's been boarding chez nous since last week, and I figured I'd fed him enough peanutbutter cookies, cheese (yes they like it) and breakfast cereal, plus the odd strawberry top and bit of cat kibble, and got nothing in return but hostile glares. Weirdly, he ate but never grew. Lively, though -- jumped to the top of his cage and spent a couple hours tucked between the wall and the water bottle yesterday. It would've been a great hiding place if the cage wall weren't clear plastic.

I don't think I've posted a shot of our original turtle, Studs, yet.


We don't know how old he is, but we've had him for over 25 years at least, and he was an adult when Joe snatched him from the middle of a road in Arkansas. As you might see here, he has a certain presence.

The reason Matt could occupy Joe's desk this morning was this: Joe was down in the driveway watering the timber bamboo. I planted it a few years ago in hopes of screening off the apartment decks/stairs/stage/doors next door. Works, so far.


The nasturtium is a longtime volunteer, one of many; the 'Skeleton Rose' scented geranium (OK, pelargonium) is tough enough to make it in this weird situation, where it's mostly in shade (buildings on either side of the narrow driveway) except at midday, when it's in blazing reflected sun. Plus it smells nice when I whap it in passing with the side of the car.

One discovery we made this week, just by the way, was the Eel River brewery in Fortuna. My goodness but they make nice beer.

Posted at 04:21 AM | Comments (7)

June 15, 2006

Home Again; D'ja Miss Me?

We just rolled in, well, about an hour and a half ago at 7:30PM-ish, from up da coast; spent a couple of days there apropos of something Joe's working on. I'll get all lyrical about it tomorrow, but man, it was nice to be somewhere where Homo saps aren't so thick on the ground; to sit still for an hour or so and hear absolutely nothing but the drop of water from the trees, the occasional breeze, and birdsong.

We sat on the front porch of the motel room in Redcrest the first evening, watching the weather and sipping bourbon and listening. There was audible traffic but not a constant hum from 101, rare passers-by on the Avenue of the Giants, which the motel fronts at maybe a hundred yards' distance, and the water noise from a fake-rustic fountain in front of the building. (Water pump and two half-barrels.) A few notes from what sounded more like a Swainson's thrush than the hermit thrush you'd expect there, and then a varied thrush.

A varied thrush looks rather like a robin with rank: add orange wingbars and a black chevron over the orangey breast, and a bit of facial pattern. Tail's a bit shorter. They feed on the ground like robins, and breed up there in the redwoods; we see them here in winter. They sing pretty much only on the breeding grounds, unlike robins and, say, white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows, who warm up for a week or more here in their winter home before migrating.

That song. If you're too close it might sound like squeaky brakes. But just fifty, a hundred feet
away, it takes on the forest's echo and hangs like jewels in its soft deep acoustics. It's the ultimate pared-down, abstracted thrush song: just one, then another minor-key note, each drawn out just a little, just enough to luxuriate in its echo and then die, and an instant of silence to frame the next note. This bird has wabi-sabi down to perfection.

Posted at 05:05 AM | Comments (3)

June 09, 2006

Seamless Nose

Got the stitches out of my nose yesterday. It's incredible what a pleasure it can be to be able to scratch one's nose. And to take one's glasses off without snagging them on a bandaid. And to be able to blow one's nose without that additional complication. It's still tender, but a reduction in petty annoyances is a disproportionately great thing.

So I've got a cyoot li'l scar (which doesn't really stand out on my face, as it has lots of company thanks to a near-terminal case of teenage acne) and one slightly asymmetrical nostril. Hmm, I guess if I have one asymmetrical nostril that means I have two asymmetrical nostrils. Isn't logic fun?

I was whining about that on the phone with Gene, and he said something about "character," as in "gives it." Yeah right, like I need more of that. But when I found myself speculating idly about nostril stents, I decided I'd overthought the matter juuuuust a bit.

So, a seamless nose but still as likely as ever to run. I don't own a pair of pantyhose (or other such stocking things) but who needs them? I have the same problems as I would anyway, except for that weird swooshy thigh sound.

Posted at 07:35 PM | Comments (1)

June 08, 2006

Red Alert

Here's yet another new invasive nasty in the San Francisco Bay Area.


From Susan Schwartz of Friends of Five Creeks, a restoration group.

I'm hoping you will help look for the bright-yellow, leafless, parasitic vine shown in the attached photo. If you find it, please inform Vince Guise of the Alameda/Contra Costa Weed Management Area andme. California has many dodders, but no other forms these bright yellow tangles in broad-leaved trees.

This plant is Japanese dodder,
Cuscuta japonica. It is a new invader inCalifornia -- our restoration site at Adams Street on Cerrito Creek is apparently only the third reported instance. But the second was at an apartment buildingin San Pablo, so there may well be others. That is why I'm asking your help.

This parasite can infest a wide variety of trees. At Cerrito Creek, it's on willow, plum, and elderberry; at San Pablo it infested pittosporum. It spreads by seed and vegetatively, by bits and pieces -- the long, succulent tendrils break off easily. Once it finds a host, it sends root-like structures called hausatoria into limbs, sucking the host plant's water and nutrients. It forms dense tangles and weakens or eventually kills the tree or bush.

The plant has herbal uses in Asia and may be being brought in for that reason. There is a Department of Agriculture quarantine, but those are often ineffectual. Like many invasives, it has the potential to spread rapidly and widely in wild lands, gardens, and orchards.

Department of Agriculture advice is to inform them rather than try to eradicate it yourself. If you do try, their advice is to remove the entire tree or bush down to the ground, double-bag everything down to smallfragments, and make sure the bags are deeply buried in landfill (that is, do not compost).

She added in a second note: "As with many invasives, you can find websites about the threat, and also web sites about how wonderful it is as medicine and food. Seed brought in as medicine is supposed to be sterile, but a recent shipment was tested and all was viable."

I hate situations like this, where one has to destroy a formerly healthy and handsome tree or plant to prevent the deaths of more plants -- though it's, I don't know, not quite a consolation to know that the infested trees are pretty much doomed anyway. This is apparently much nastier than the familiar orange dodder -- itself an agricultural pest -- that we see every year in the pickleweed marshes around the Bay.

Photo not copyrighted, credit: Friends of Five Creeks. Spread the word. Just don't spread the weed.

Posted at 07:22 PM | Comments (4)

June 04, 2006

Leapin Lizards

We strolled the Fire Interpretive (or some such weirdly oracular title-d) Trail around the summit of Mount Diablo on Thursday, with John and Mary. Interesting weather -- warm, breezy, then a high overcast that would've meant rain anywhere else, then muggy with occasional breezes for relief, then slightly less muggy, then slightly more breezy... mostly congenial, though. Various posies were blooming --


Amazing how some of these little guys make such an exuberant presence while making a living on unpromising rock.

The birds, while not spectacular, were there to say Hi. Blue-gray gnatcatcher was probably the best, but we had quail, Anna's hummers, oak titmouse, Bewick's wren, white-throated swift, wrentit, chipping sparrow, California thrasher, turkey vulture of course, black phoebe ditto, orange-crowned warbler, dark-eyed junco, bushtit, the usual suspects.

We could see the snowcaps of the Sierra, though it was hazy enough that they seemed to be floating on the eastern horizon. We also had some really funny skies overhead, with various cirrus patterns and then a stretch of pewter-plated waves, apparent upside-down rain, brushstrokes and ripples and shreds of cotton and one sort of negative contrail, a blue groove through a sparse cloud. I wonder if Duane Van Deiman was watching, and what his opinion was of that.

It was a great day for herps. Fence lizards all over the place:

Fence lizard

-- basking, skittering, glaring at us, doing pushups, the usual fence lizard stuff. Thanks, guys!

I didn't get a shot of the northern alligator lizard lurking in a dark spot in the brush, but I did notice its dark eye, whict as it turns out is a fieldmark. Fetching, too.

One one short stretch of trail, on the southeastern slope of the mountain, we encountered five whiptail lizards. The first posed for me:


and escorted us down the trail: "Right this way, please."

whiptail, tail

The state park system has closed down most of its amenities on Mount Diablo, including the naturalist(s) and the funny little gift shop at the summit; maybe these guys are funded by the Mt. Diablo Interpretive Association, or maybe they're volunteers. Nice escort, anyway.

This is one of the whiptail species that still have two sexes.

On our last sidetrip, on the way back from Artist's Point (yeah, well) we met the cutest baby rattlesnake:


It was maybe eight inches long, very cool and collected -- just flicked its black tongue a few times, looked us over, then slowly and casually slid off the tarmac to the WPA stone wall bordering it.

In fact, the WPA work on Diablo is one of my favorite artifacts around. It includes the famous (in certain circles) Diablo Stove, a feature of better campsites in the West. I'd like one in my backyard, in fact. It's stone with cast-iron doors and grill, quite versatile and luxe.

Quite interesting (to put it diplomatically) to notice the contrast between the WPA and its works and spirit and the state of public works, especially things like parks, now.

Posted at 05:32 AM | Comments (1)

June 03, 2006

Arrogant Arborist: By Popular Demand

Here's a rant I had published in my hometown paper a year-and-change ago.

I do suspect, as Sara mentions, that the kind of slam-around-and-damn-the-consequences way that quite a few men learn to approach the rest of the world, when they deign to notice it, has a lot to do with idiotic work like this. "I got POWURRRR, I don' hafta be smart, durrrr!" The approach certainly isn't limited to men, but it's certainly tolerated for longer in them; cf. "Boys will be boys."

Maybe it's no accident that Plant Amnesty was founded by a woman.

On the gripping hand, I'll say right out loud that I owe my grasp of pruning mostly to Dennis Makishima, who's a man. So a/ it ain't hopeless and b/ there's no excuse.

Posted at 04:47 AM | Comments (2)

June 02, 2006

Movie of the Week

Rush right over and watch the summary of this year's breeding season at the peregrine nest in downtown San Francisco. (You'll need Windows Media Viewer.)

George and Gracie's single eyas of the year, Junior, has fledged. If you're in San Francisco, look up now and then and maybe you'll see one of them. Last year, we had two of the year's three graduates sail past us as we stood of a front porch in Bernal Heights.

Posted at 08:41 PM | Comments (2)